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How Nostalgia Works

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It's funny how nostalgia works.

Nostalgia is basically something old, that we see as a charming memory. But in order to qualify it has to be something we can identify with and something we can recognize. It also has to be a certain age to really count.

When making a photograph we tend not to think about how the future will see our art, mostly because we don't care. It's only looking back to that image do we get that sense of nostalgia, and it's usually because it's a bygone day or things are totally different now.

How this effects what you take and how you use it is important. For example, take the common scene:

Art Prints Photography Prints

Some could call this a snap shot. A snap shot often is cluttered and it's hard to tell what story the image is trying to explain. It's often filled with many different items which could hurt an image or help it depending on the context. And more than often a snap shot is a picture taken in modern day. But how does it relate to nostalgia?

As seen in the first image, the bayou, the building itself is already old, it's been re-purposed into a new store. Old lights dot the streets (made to look old because new stuff looks odd in this setting). There's a guy there standing in the fashion of the day, which happens to be 2010, mail boxes, and it shows what life was like in this time.

The second shows a cluttered but typical New York street. People hailing taxi cabs, modern cars mixed with old buildings. You can see shadows of old buildings, traffic lights, bits of cobblestone showing you just how old this area is.

Neither of these are nostalgic. Why? Because this is what you see if you go there right now. This was taken in 2012. This is what life was like back then. The same as it is now.

It's not a nostalgic piece yet. We have to wait years before it is. In 10 years, not much will change, unless an earthquake levels the town. In 30 years, it's still not that interesting because the building will look the same, but it might have different owners. People are still driving those old cars.

In 50 years, it becomes more interesting, because most of those cars were crushed into soda cans, and the few that remain are in car shows as a classic car. We can look back at this image at that time and see what has changed since then. The building might be gone. The streets paved, the cars might be hovering.

In a 100 years, this is a classic. There could be a huge skyscraper on this spot. The cars might be flying in the air, and all these cars on the street could be in a museum. Complete with actors who dress up like us and speak of the interweb and use hand held cell phones that fold just to complete the look while being totally confused that none of those things were used in this era. We can see how charming the people look in their period outfits.

In a 150 years, the image itself is rare and a total antique since images are either 3D or beamed directly into your head.

That's one way to look at nostalgia, sometimes an image that doesn't seem so interesting is, it all depends how you age it.

Another type of nostalgia, the type that that doesn't need years to age and cure:

Your typical family vacation snap shot. That's right all those images of you in your Speedo's, at some amusement park on the beach. Something that would and should, stay in the family album can become an overnight nostalgic piece. But it depends on natural disaster or time itself. If a building is leveled, and people miss that building, your snapshot might fill that void.

When the twin towers fell, out came the snap shots. When Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast, it swallowed a historic boardwalk. The whole thing is gone. The roller coaster is in the water. The only real memories of it are those horrible snap shots. But they are now a classic because they may be the only images left of the place.

This is a good reason to take pictures of everything, because you never know if it will be gone the next time you go there.

---Mike Savad